Sunday, June 29, 2014

Eaten Alive, Or: How To Outsmart Vampires

Kearsarge Pass. Glen Pass. Pinchot Pass. Mather Pass. Muir Pass. Evolution Creek Ford. Selden Pass. Bear Creek Ford. Silver Pass. Postholing through waist-deep snowfields. Countless mosquitoes. Swollen knee. Stiff muscles. Sore tendons. Sunburnt skin. Weak motivation. Broken boots. Subsisting on Ibuprofen for three days. On from Red's Meadow to Mammoth Lakes. Broken, beat and scarred. Time for three Zeros, at least. Time to pay the price for a section of the trail that is as tough as it is rewarding.

The stretch between Kennedy Meadows and Kearsarge Pass had some mosquitoes, but it was easy to keep them at bay and I thought it wouldn't get any worse, so I deliberately decided not to buy any bug protection like DEET or a headnet. WORST. MISTAKE. EVER. And I thought I've seen it bad in Massachusetts four years ago. Obviously I had no idea.

On the day we got out of Independence and back into the wild we knew that the next 125 miles would be demanding. Having to face at least one major pass every day didn't sound like a walk in the park. But the huge climbs and descents weren't the biggest problem. Something else was bugging me. Literally. Bugging me. Some call them mosquitoes. I call them Flying Bitches. At Rae Lakes after Glen Pass they charged our ranks, trying to take us down all at once, although their attacks were very similar to the Soviet Army in World War II: they didn't win the battle by using any kind of strategy or tactics. They simply won the battle by outnumbering us. Cracker Jack and Danger came up with the idea to build a fire to get rid of them, but apparently the Flying Bitches in the Sierras don't really care about the smoke.

As usual, they're most terrible at dawn and dusk. One day Cracker Jack and I had the idea to have dinner on top of Selden Pass because we thought there wouldn't be any of them around. Haha! What a ridiculous delusion! The most annoying thing is that it takes you twice as long to do your chores because you have to keep moving all the time to prevent them from landing on you. Drop your backpack. Move around. Get out your stove. Move around. Fill your cooking pot with water. Move around. Get out your food. Move around. And so on...

When we reached camp about two and a half miles later I had no chance but to surrender. I was covered in a black cloud of mosquitoes while trying to pitch my tent. I guess there must've been between 200 and 300 of them at once. No, I'm not kidding. This is my actual estimate and not an exaggeration. It took me about three minutes to set up my tent. Then I just threw everything in there, closed it and spent five minutes killing all the Flying Bitches that got in with me. My wrists and the back of my neck were entirely covered in bites, sometimes several bites on top of each other. It was clear I had to come up with a new strategy. Fortunately, as an adult human being I have the capability of creative thought, while these suckers only have their primitive instincts. So there had to be a way to outsmart them.

Time is the key. The Sierras are pretty cold at night. Too cold for them. So the next day I decided to set up camp no later than 6 p.m. That day I had dinner in my tent. You're actually not supposed to do that because it will make your tent smell like food, which could attract bears at night. But at that point I was so desperate that I thought I'd rather fight off a bear than having to put up with these blood-sucking sons of bitches. With a bear attacking you, you only have to deal with one enemy at a time, instead of hundreds. I set my alarm for 4 a.m. and got up when it was still too cold for them to come out. For the first time in a week I was able to break camp, have breakfast and filter water without being bothered by them. I started hiking by 5:10 in the morning and didn't stop until 11:00. At 4:50 p.m. I reached Red's Meadow and was done for the day. 24 miles down before sunset. Not too bad for hiking in the High Sierra.

About three days earlier my left knee started hurting me. Must've been the large ups and downs all week long. Danger hooked me up with a knee bandage and a good handful of Ibuprofen. I don't usually take painkillers on the trail, but this time I didn't have much of a choice. There were still about 70 miles left until we would make it to town. Too much to hike on with a swollen knee that feels like it's about to burst any moment. So I subsisted on Ibuprofen for about three days, which really saved me out there.

I'm enjoying my third Zero in a row in Mammoth Lakes right now to give my knee a chance to recover. I guess tomorrow it's time to go back into Flying Bitches County. But this time with a headnet. Gotta visit one of the local outfitters later to get me one of them life-savers.

 Here are some more pictures:

So long and Happy Trails,


  1. I guess "just bitem back" is not an option? So I hope the headnet will do. Remember to make a selfie, must look great covering your new haircut ;-)

  2. Very nice meeting you Cheeseburger in Tuolume Meadows. I did notice you mosquit bites on your hands. I will be praying that those buggers will stay away and that you heal nicely. Enjoyed you blog. You are an inspiration son. Stay safe, the "hiking Nana from San Diego"...Diana

  3. Hey Ben,
    hoffe du kommst ohne europaresistente Nachkommen der Mückenviecher und heile wieder.
    Danke für die Karte, deine Fotos sind wieder unschlagbar atemberaubend.
    Wünsche dir noch eine tolle Zeit, bis dann!

  4. Tach kleiner.
    Die Bilder sind voll der Hammer. Hoffe du hast viele nette Leute um dich rum. Meld dich wenn du wieder da bist. Viel Spaß und gutes Wetter Mike

  5. Hallo Ben,
    wir haben dich 2010 zu Begin des Trail (AT) kennengelernt, wegen einer schweren Erkrankung meines Vaters haben wir in Hot Springs abgebrochen und sind zurückgeflogen.
    Wir freuen uns, dass du den Trail geschafft hast und erneut unterwegs bist! Respekt für deine Fotos, Texte (auf Englisch) und deine Energie.
    Hoffentlich geht es dir gut, seit mehr als vier Wochen hat du nichts gepostet.
    2015 wollen wir uns erneut an den Trail (AT) wagen, der PCT ist leider eher für Fortgeschrittene und passt nicht unser Zeitbudget!
    Wir folgen dir seit Anfang Juni und wünschen dir viel Kraft und Spaß, verlier nicht deinen Humor ("Rattlesnake-Conspiracy" : ) )
    Liebe Grüße aus der Eifel

    Wheretogo und Sidkid (Birgit und Jonathan)

  6. I remember how bad they where. I caught up to you guys the next day after I went of Silver pass. I couldn't believe how many "fling bitches" you had on you. That was crazy. I felt bad for you man haha. Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog.